Business, Finance & Economics

2012: old economic story, new wrinkle


The European Central Bank can't seem to give money away. They loan it to Europe's retail banks and then the banks deposit it back with the ECB.



Shortly before Christmas the European Central Bank made three-year loans available to Europe's retail banks at extremely low interest rates in the hopes of boosting their liquidity.

What the banks did with the money they borrowed was up to them - although the hope was they would buy lots of their nations' sovereign debt and thus drive down interest rates on these bonds.

Instead it seems they are taking the money they borrowed and parking it back at the ECB.

Last night, the Wall Street Journal reports, banks parked 453.18 billion euros ($591 billion) in the ECB's overnight deposit facility, earning themselves 0.25 percent interest. That's up from 446.26 billion euros deposited with the ECB on Monday.

The Guardian's ever perceptive Larry Elliott interprets the banks' action this way, "European banks have a massive funding problem, and for the time being that is being disguised by large dollops of cheap money from the ECB and other central banks. There is no real strategy here, other than playing for time in the hope that something will come up."

Those of us who thought that the cheap loans were Mario Draghi's clever way to get money flowing towards those euro zone economies whose sovereign debt is now subject to cripplingly high rates of interest may have been wrong.